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The 1970’s saw the rise of what is today known as the “jam band” genre of music, with artists such as the Grateful Dead performing lengthy, improvised, and genre fluid sets of live music. The genre is also today characterized by the recording of live performances and near instant availability of these performances to fans publicly, usually by digital download, often hours after the concert concludes.
By the 1980’s, the Grateful Dead’s fan base had grown to a loyal and dedicated community of “Deadheads,” who often followed the group from show to show on tours. The Dead inspired and informed other bands such as the Allman Brothers Band, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Spin Doctors. The Grateful Dead performed well into the 1990’s, during which time the band Phish also began to attract a similar fan base and perform a similar style of music. Today, Phish has grown to become one of the most popular jam bands of all time; the band is considered the very iconic embodiment of the genre itself.
A jam band booking price can range from $10,000 to over $1,000,000. Booking fees for jam bands are usually based on their popularity and the number of tickets they can sell for a public performance.
The jam band genre continued to grow even more in the late 1990’s and into the new millennium, although its term has grown increasingly ambiguous in recent years. The expansion of the festival industry contributed to its growth, providing a forum for the one constant quality of jam band music—it’s approach as improvisational, despite the wide diversity of music styles. Beyond that, a single “jam band” festival might include everything from southern rock to electronic/EDM music, with some acid jazz, hip hop, and even hard rock mixed in. Present-day jam band festivals include Bonnaroo in Tennessee; Mountain Jam in New York; Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado; and High Sierra Music Festival in California.
Notable contemporary jam bands include Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, the Black Crowes, My Morning Jacket, Gov’t Mule, The String Cheese Incident, and even The Derek Trucks Band, although the latter fought hard to defy the pigeonhole label of “jam band.” The remaining members of many former jam bands—including the Grateful Dead—have gone on to form contemporary jam bands such as Bob Weir & Ratdog, Further, Phil Lesh and Friends, and Dead & Company.
The jam band genre appears to be firmly entrenched in modern music movements with no sign of dissolution any time soon. Paramount to the genre is not just the improvisational style, but also a strong sense of community which extends to fans, fellow musicians, and a very open approach to allowing fans to record their own copies of performances and give those copies away to others in the spirit of generosity. This makes the modern jam band movement among the most democratic and non-commercial of all present-day genres.
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